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Volume 3, Issue 291: Friday, December 21, 2001

  • "U.S. Mulls New Curbs on Computer Exports"
    Financial Times (12/21/01) P. 7; Alden, Edward

    The Bush administration is reversing its stance on exports of high-powered computers, supporting stricter controls and limiting international partners selling similar systems. Despite campaign promises to erase export restrictions on the supercomputers, new security concerns have caused Bush to backtrack and frustrate the industry, which sees such restrictions as unnecessary. Companies such as Intel and Sun Microsystems say supercomputing standards change too fast to be subject to such government control, and that new networking techniques can create supercomputer clusters out of many regular-grade machines. The administration suggests changing the standards by which computing power is measured, but that would just add an extra burden, say manufacturers. The United States also proposed international controls on supercomputer exports at a meeting of the 34 leading countries in computers. India, Pakistan, states of the former Soviet Union, China, and a number of rogue states are banned from buying the most powerful computers, many of which are made solely in the United States and could be used to develop sophisticated weapons systems or gather intelligence.
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  • "Efforts to Transform Computers Reach Milestone"
    New York Times (12/20/01) P. A21; Johnson, George

    Quantum computing experts at IBM succeeded in factoring the number 15 by flipping the polarity of seven atoms. The breakthrough is proof of the quantum computing concept, which would allow many millions of calculations to be performed simultaneously as a result of the peculiar nature of quantum mechanics. If researchers can perfect a technique to reliably control tens of thousands of atoms for computing purposes, not only would they develop super-small, lightning-fast computers, but they would also be able to crack previously unbreakable cryptographic codes used to protect secret data. The lead scientist in the experiment, Dr. Isaac L. Chuang, said about the new computing paradigm, "We have to move far beyond this. But at least we have demonstrated that it is possible." The quantum factoring experiment is based on the work of AT&T Laboratories' Dr. Peter Shor, who invented an algorithm that would enable a quantum computer to carry out simultaneous calculations and factor extremely long numbers in a short time.
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  • "Buffer Overflows Computer Security"
    Associated Press (12/21/01); Fordahl, Matthew

    Even the new Microsoft XP, touted as the company's most secure operating system ever, is prone to buffer overflow vulnerabilities, as was demonstrated this week. EEye Digital Security consultants reported a vulnerability that could leave Windows XP computers merciless before hackers employing buffer overflow techniques. Buffer overflow attacks, which send loaded data packets into the part of memory that responds to executable files, have been used since 1988, and are part of half of all hack techniques. Microsoft's Jim Allchin said that special attention was paid to buffer overflow vulnerabilities in the software design process, and many security experts have accordingly lambasted the company since the most recent attack was reported. SecurityFocus chief technology officer Elias Levy says, "A lot of the lessons that Unix programmers learned the hard way, Microsoft programmers had to learn again." One way to manage the problem is to use programming languages such as Java that offer better memory management techniques, since ensuring there is enough space to store data is at the root of buffer overflow vulnerabilities.

  • "Companies Infringed on Xerox Patent, Judge Says"
    Baltimore Sun (12/21/01) P. 3C

    Xerox has won a patent infringement case against Palm and 3Com, which spun off Palm last year. The ruling will allow Xerox to seek damages for illegal use of its Unistrokes patent, which the ruling said covered Palm and 3Com's Graffiti technology that allows one-stroke handwriting for digital assistants. Xerox, which lost rights to its mouse and laser printer inventions, has been active in protecting its technology in recent years, and filed the suit against Palm and 3Com in 1997, the year the Unistrokes patent was certified. Graffiti handwriting-recognition software is used in Palm, Handspring, and other mobile computing devices. "Either Palm will have to cease production of its handheld organizer or license the technology from Xerox," says Xerox's Christina Clayton.
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  • "FBI Raids Cripple Software Pirates"
    CNet (12/19/01); Lemos, Robert

    A series of raids coordinated by the FBI, the U.S. Customs Service, and the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Criminal Investigative Service have effectively hobbled the international community of Internet software pirates. The raids were conducted with the assistance of the U.S. Justice Department and the law-enforcement agencies of several countries. Between Dec. 10 and Dec. 11, over 130 computers were seized worldwide in Operation Buccaneer, an international effort that targeted DrinkorDie, a large software piracy ring. In a second sting called Operation Bandwidth, federal agents served 34 search warrants in the United States and Canada on Dec. 11. That same day also saw more U.S. searches carried out under the auspices of Digital Piratez, an undercover investigation based in New Hampshire. U.S. Customs' Kevin Bell reports that many leads have been generated, especially since suspected warez community members who have been questioned in the past week are willing to cooperate with the investigation. One community member says that, "Right now, every scene is at a standstill." Other members are reporting wide-ranging effects of the crackdown, including the shutdown of two major communications hubs at universities in New York and the Netherlands, and the flight of many crackers underground.

  • "Panel: Government Info Sharing Is Key to Fighting Terrorism"
    Computerworld Online (12/19/01); Garretson, Cara

    Information sharing among the different levels of government and various intelligence and law-enforcement agencies is vital in preventing future terrorist attacks, whether they be against physical targets or computer networks, said panelists at e-Gov's Homeland Defense and Crisis Management conference. However, sharing data about potential threats, actual attacks, and terrorist suspects is difficult because various government agencies do not use the same communications technologies. For example, the FBI uses its National Infrastructure Protection Center Web site to disseminate information, but many local police departments do not have Internet access. Conference panelists said private industry should help overcome such difficulties. Another critical hurdle that must be overcome is the FBI's hesitancy to share classified information, they said.

  • "Russian Programmer Stands by Boss in DMCA Case"
    Reuters (12/19/01); Abreu, Elinor Mills

    Russian programmer Dmitry Sklyarov, who was charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), insists that he is loyal to his employer, ElcomSoft, which was also indicted and is awaiting trial. The charges against Sklyarov have been dropped, but he denies that he agreed to cooperate with the U.S. government in its investigation in return for his freedom. ElcomSoft attorney Joseph Burton says that Sklyarov was freed last Thursday as part of a "diversion agreement" in which he disclosed certain facts but did not admit any wrongdoing; he also agreed to testify in ElcomSoft's trial if he is called. Burton adds that the programmer was released because the government case against him is weak. ElcomSoft CEO Alex Katalov believes that any testimony from Sklyarov will work to the defense's advantage, and fully supports the deal Sklyarov made with prosecutors.

  • "H-1B Workers Getting the Cold Shoulder in Weak Economy"
    iSeries Network (12/20/01); Aitoro, Jill R.

    As the economy remains weak, there is discontent over the number of H-1B visa holders who some say could be taking jobs that should go to Americans. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 147,000 IT workers were unemployed in October, nearly the same amount of H-1B visas granted last year, 163,000. U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) is pushing for legislation that would drive the number of allowed H-1B visas issued each year down to just 65,000, the level it was before a several IT worker shortage prompted Congress to raise the H-1B visa cap to 195,000 last year. He says that in the past eight months about 500,000 tech workers have been let go or are underemployed, while there are about 500,000 H-1B visa holders currently living in the U.S. However, some job skills require the H-1B labor pool, says Tech Software President Walden H. Leverich III. He says H-1B workers are more loyal to their company and already possess the skills needed, so companies do not have to train workers. Meanwhile, others say that the comparisons are unfair and they note that the recession has mostly curtailed the worker shortage, not a flood of foreign workers.

  • "Tiny Computers Stand Out from Scientific Works"
    Reuters (12/20/01); Fox, Maggie

    The journal Science has released a list of the year's most notable scientific breakthroughs, and senior editor Phil Szuromi gave special mention to the work done on nanocomputers. These minute devices could be used as monitors or drug delivery systems within the human body, or "smart" lights capable of automatic adjustment, he surmises. Among the achievements cited by the journal are a Harvard team's creation of tiny wires that can be etched onto a silicon chip with current techniques; molecule-sized switches, wires, and transistors developed by groups at IBM, Pennsylvania State University, and elsewhere; and small diodes and transistors built by researchers at Bell Laboratories. The MITRE Corporation's James Ellenbogen predicts that such advances will "have a transformative effect almost before people realize it."

  • "Nanoresearchers' Little Helpers Come Equipped with Tiny Tool Belt"
    Small Times (12/19/01); Downs, Martha

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Sylvain Martel has created a nanoassembly system that uses small robots that could fit in a small child's hand. The NanoWalker robots would come equipped with a range of tools necessary for nanoassembly, including scanning-tunnel microscopes needed for imaging and moving atoms, atomic force tips, and micromanipulators. Martel places the robots on a charged surface, where they would presumably work to construct computer chips or the like, and from where they draw their power. Using small legs, the robots can make 18,000 steps per second and move slowly as well, at 2-nanometer increments. The robots coordinate using infrared beams and a CCD camera that provides an overview of the all the robots on the field. To keep the devices from overheating, moist towelettes are applied to their circuit boards. Meanwhile, researchers from Germany's University of Karlsruhe have developed wired microbots that operate on the stages of light microscopes and within the vacuum chambers of scanning electron microscopes. The machines can manipulate single cells and assemble micron-sized optical systems.
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  • "Destructive Reeezak Worm Wishes Happy New Year"
    Newsbytes (12/19/01); McWilliams, Brian

    A malicious virus writer known as ZaCker, believed responsible for the WTC Worm several months ago, has unleashed a new worm delivered in an email message with "Happy New Year" in the subject line. The worm, known as [email protected], is hidden in an attachment masked as Shockwave Flash animation. Virus experts warn that opening the attachment releases several payloads. The worm attempts to mail copies of itself to addresses on the victim's Microsoft Outlook address book, and sets the user's browser start page to an infected Geocities.com site that disables anti-virus and firewall applications on the victim's PC. Once the program is completed, an anti-Semitic message is displayed. The page also tries to launch an Islamic Shockwave animation from a site run by the Muslim Student Association at Oregon State University. Symantec virus researchers have labeled Reeezak a low-risk worm, but Computer Associates deigns it a medium-to-high risk because it attempts to disable keyboard input and delete files from the Windows system directory.

  • "Hackers Show Light in a New Art"
    Wired News (12/20/01); Kettmann, Steve

    Chaos Computer Club, a feisty hacker community in Berlin, has made an unusual artistic statement at the city's Alexanderplatz. They have set up a Web site that lets people compose fancy patterns out of the windows of a large office building by controlling the lights within 144 rooms. Internet browsers can download software that allows them to create animations from this display, known as Blinkenlights. They can also play a game of Pong via their cell phones. The Blinkenlights Web site is averaging approximately 10,000 visitors per day. The project began in September to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the CCC, but it is during the holidays that the Blinkenlights display has reached the peak of its popularity. The display will remain operational for a few more months, but CCC leader and ICANN representative Andy Mueller-Maguhn has even loftier ambitions: Turning an entire city into a light display using a similar methodology.

  • "Java Allies Brew Wireless Retort to MS"
    ZDNet (12/18/01); Shankland, Stephen; Charny, Ben

    A coalition of major software firms has signed on to a new Java effort to keep Microsoft from controlling the confluence of Internet servers and Internet-enabled mobile devices. Nokia, the world's largest cell phone maker, is leading the effort, which has already signed on many major telecommunications companies. The alliance will decide the standards for mobile Internet access to be incorporated in Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE), which is already an established programming language that works ubiquitously on all Internet servers. A standard such as XHTML or SyncML would allow programmers to write Internet server code without regard to device platform, and could be implemented in the new J2EE version 1.4 late next year or early 2003. The J2EE extension lacks a digital identity authentication standard, and BEA Systems' Eric Stahl says the Liberty Alliance Project is a leading candidate. Joining Nokia's effort are AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, NTT DoCoMo, and Vodafone. BEA, IBM, Sun Microsystems, Borland, Oracle, and Hewlett-Packard have also signed on.

  • "Report: IT/IS Spending Bottoms Out"
    InternetNews.com (12/18/01); Olavsrud, Thor

    IT/IS spending reached its lowest point in the United States and Europe in 2001 and will bounce back in 2002, predicts a study by CyberAtlas Research. Judging from the current situation, U.S. and European IT/IS capital spending will increase by approximately 2.4 percent next year, says CyberAtlas Research's Patricia Fusco. In the first six months of 2002, European IT/IS budgets will go up 1.5 percent while the U.S. market will increase by less than 1 percent, Fusco forecasts. The United States and Europe will generate $414.3 billion in sales of IT/IS goods and services in 2001, according to the report. The average SME is expected to spend $765,000 on IT/IS operations in 2001 with annual sales of $15 million. Meanwhile, the typical Fortune 1000 firm is expected to spend slightly less than $50 million on IT/IS operations this year. Fusco is more optimistic about 2002's third quarter. IT/IS vendors supplying goods and services to the public sector are most likely to benefit from high sales, she says.

  • "Intelligent Space Suits on the Horizon"
    BBC News Online (12/19/01); Mitchell, Gareth

    MIT researchers are working on a method to send astronauts data as a visual display within the helmets of their space suits. "What we're doing essentially is using the small amount of unused space within the suit to build a body conformable computer and provide them with a display system that does not require modifications to the current suit," says Chris Carr of MIT. Men on space walks outside the International Space Station would receive information from operators within the station through a wireless network. The information would be transmitted into the helmet via a wearable computer combined with a wireless video terminal, notes WebSAT project manager Steven Schwartz. The components would be attached to the upper torso of the suit, according to Carr. The astronaut would view the data through a small active matrix crystal display, says Schwartz. The researchers say the technology could be ready in three years.

  • "The Great Application Amalgamation"
    Network World (12/17/01) Vol. 18, No. 51, P. 24; Ohlson, Kathleen

    Companies that built separate back-end systems for customer relationship management, manufacturing, accounting, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and marketing are realizing the importance of integrating all these components if they are to reach customers, suppliers, manufacturers, and trading partners faster. Experts say that integration is often ignored within organizations because it lacks the excitement of e-commerce or the trendiness of Web services. But it will ease some of the headaches associated with mergers, in which integrating systems and data often turns into a "turf war." "[Integration is] 75 percent politics, organization and policy, and 25 percent infrastructure and technology," explains CareGroup CIO Dr. John Halamka. Application integration is likely to become even easier as Web services emerge, predict experts. Integration is a continuous process, but Wallace Computer Services CIO Ken O'Brien takes solace in the fact that "the lion's share of the work is done" at the outset. The worldwide application-integration and middleware market is expected to surge from $3.8 billion in 2000 to $11 billion in 2005, according to a Gartner study.

  • "Overrated, Underrated"
    InformationWeek (12/17/01) No. 868, P. 35; Soat, John; Heun, Christopher T.; McGee, Marianne Kolbasuk

    The year 2001 was a year of heavily promoted technologies and business trends that flamed out because returns were not realized as promised or implementation problems were downplayed; conversely, many other technologies and skills that were underrated emerged in the same year. The unexpected economic downturn and terrorist attacks were a severe blow to those who touted vision skills above other business skills, while the importance of communications skills, as demonstrated by the failure of Enron, became all the more obvious. Companies' emphasis on personalization overlooked the fact that most customers want their online transactions to go smoothly. Broadband failed to fulfill its promise to revolutionize information access, giving dial-up connections the chance to come to the fore; meanwhile, videoconferencing remained highly expensive, despite its so-called advantages, while email offers more flexibility at less cost. An alleged IT shortage caused companies to spend a lot on new recruits who lacked experience, while many managers now are focusing on maintaining their top staff's enthusiasm for the job with creative incentives. 3G wireless delivery is not expected until 2004, undercutting its promise to revolutionize business and boost productivity, while corporate network security has emerged as a highly desired feature. A solid knowledge-management platform has yet to arrive, and it still faces cultural hurdles in order to gain widespread acceptance. CRM implementation proved much more difficult than companies assumed, leading firms to change their deployment strategies to take people and business processes into account as well as technology.

  • "Networking the Infrastructure"
    Technology Review (12/01) Vol. 104, No. 10, P. 38; Roush, Wade

    The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have engineers, security consultants, and authorities on counterterrorism rethinking ways of securing American cities and infrastructure from further attacks. Such experts believe the key is to develop and deploy technologies that link infrastructure together in a system that is smarter and more self-aware than what exists today. The model for a more secure infrastructure is the Internet, which uses a packet-switching protocol that enables data to find alternative routes when some pathways are destroyed. Cities already offer some of the diversity of the Internet, for example, in that they rarely rely on a single source for water; as a result, cities can turn to their other water sources if terrorists were to target one aqueduct. However, experts envision linking infrastructure such as water utilities, transportation, telecommunications, emergency services, electrical power, and oil and gas distribution in an Internet-accessible information-sharing and analysis center that will enable authorities to maintain timely information about events that could disrupt operations. Experts say city infrastructure could be modernized even further by mixing legions of wirelessly interconnected sensors into building materials for the purpose of monitoring and reporting on the physical state of structures. Researchers at MIT's civil and environmental engineering department have been discussing concepts of the 'I-City,' such as the 'smart brick,' for the past two years. "We have to start envisioning, and preparing for, worst-case scenarios," says American Civil Defense Association President Nancy Greene, who adds that "People are finally starting to wake up, but unfortunately it takes this sort of action to make it happen."

  • "Browsing the Mobile Internet"
    Computer (12/01) Vol. 34, No. 12, P. 18; Lawton, George

    Microbrowser technology must advance along with wireless networking and the growing demand for Web-enabled handhelds. Some industry insiders say that NTT DoCoMo's i-mode is the most popular microbrowser because it supports protocols other than WAP, which has been criticized as latency-prone and difficult to access. Many microbrowsers have hit the market, with many more expected as competition heats up; some of the new programs will boast higher levels of security, smaller footprints, new standard support, and better content-distribution architectures. Vendors are investigating lighter versions of existing security protocols, such as WTLS and WPKI, that can be applied to microbrowsers, while footprint size is being reduced by simplifying interfaces and streamlining multimedia functionality. Another major step for microbrowsers is a shift from Wireless Markup Language towards open, HTML-based languages. Vendors are pursuing multiplatform microbrowsers to increase usability, while developers are trying to create microbrowsers that can install and run applications locally. However, industry insiders do not foresee widespread microbrowser adoption until several issues are worked out: Displays must increase in size, wireless connections must be faster, new usage paradigms must be developed, and content must be improved. Observers are split as to how the microbrowser market will turn out--some expect consolidation, while others say there will be room for many niche vendors.

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